Last week, in reaction to a growing sense that the game has become stagnant, the NBA Committee on Playing Rules unanimously approved the abolition of the illegal-defense rule, paving the way for zone defenses for the first time in the league's 55 years. If the Board of Governors approves the committee's recommendations before the June draft, coaches will be free to implement any kind of D next season, though a defender will be limited to three seconds in the lane unless he is within arm's reach of an opposing player. The three-second rule prohibits shot blockers from camping under the basket, a concern of many coaches.
Suns owner Jerry Colangelo, who chaired the 11-member committee, predicts that his fellow owners will approve the package of changes, which also includes an eight-second time limit to get the ball past midcourte, a more liberal definition of incidental contact (to cut down on touch fouls) and the elimination of offensive goaltending. "If [the owners] are looking to get scoring up, that's not necessarily going to happen," says Magic general manager John Gabriel, who initially was opposed to legalizing the zone. "But what they've tried to do is to put together changes that may improve the game over the long haul."
The NBA must speed up the pace of games to make them more appealing to watch—and quickly. Over the next six months the league will be negotiating TV contracts that will take effect in the 2002-03 season; ABC and ESPN are expected to challenge the current rights holders, NBC and Turner.
The rules are under scrutiny because too many teams walk the ball upcourt and run mind-numbing isolation plays, which cut down on passing and offensive rebounding. Even though no one knows what impact zones will have, the NBA hopes that rules encouraging fast breaks, ball movement and forays to the hoop will allow its young, athletic players to showcase their talent. "Remember when Julius Erving and Michael Jordan were the only guys who could take off from the foul line and dunk?" says Pacers president Donnie Walsh. "Now we have at least 20 guys who can do that."
Outside the Box Score
How Orlando Picked Off Philly
The Magic relied on an unusual play to pull off its 96-95 upset at Philadelphia on March 28: the "inverted" pick-and-roll. Coach Doc Rivers had 6'1" point guard Darrell Armstrong set screens for 6'8" Tracy McGrady. The resulting defensive switch created a mismatch between Armstrong's defender, 6-foot Allen Iverson, and McGrady, who poured in 44 points, tying his career high. Fearful of losing the game on a pick-and-roll, 76ers coach Larry Brown loaded up on perimeter defenders for the Magic's final play. With center Dikembe Mutombo on the bench, McGrady drove the lane to score the winning basket with 2.7 seconds remaining.